Mindset and Discipline as a Recipe for Flourishing
The idea for this post about mindset and discipline as a recipe for flourishing came from my podcast interview with Dr. Chris Laszlo, Professor of Organizational Behaviors and Faculty Director for the Fowler Center at Case Western Reserve’s Weatherhead School of Management (Episode 10 at http://scienceofsuccess.libsyn.com/podcast). In the interview, Dr. Laszlo made one comment that really resonated with me: “in a lot of ways technology is ahead of our consciousness.” In other words, it is the limitations in our thinking, not in technology, that is limiting our ability to live a flourishing life. This post explores what it means to live a flourishing life.
It is the limitations in our thinking, not in technology, that is limiting our ability to live a flourishing life.
It’s simple to keep to yourself and feel that you only need to worry about yourself, but it is a deeply unfulfilled way to live. It is unfulfilled because we are inherently social creatures – we need each other to survive. To live a good life, we need to be in relationship with others. Social science shows that well-being correlates with the quality of our relationships with others (see the Epilogue, What Really Matters, in Social Intelligence: the New Science of Human Relationships by Daniel Goleman for research references). Social science also shows that we are wired to be compassionate and identifies what interferes with this natural instinct (see Chapter 4, An Instinct for Altruism, in Social Intelligence: the New Science of Human Relationships by Daniel Goleman for research references).
Similarly, we also need the natural environment to survive – this supplies the oxygen we breathe, the water we drink, the food we eat, and the materials we use for shelter, working, and living. By way of analogy to our social life, it is also unfulfilling to live a life that is not in a healthy relationship with the natural environment. This means understanding that there is no such thing as an environmental problem – the problem is not with the environment, it is with our relationship with the environment and how we treat the environment (see 2012 article “When Human Nature Confronts the Need for a Global Environmental Ethics by Marc E. Pratarelli of Colorado State University here: http://psycnet.apa.org). As in our social life, there are also things that get in the way of a healthy relationship with the natural environment.
Therefore, the most fulfilling life, the flourishing life, is one with healthy relationships both with others and with the natural world. This post first explores how healthy relationships with others start with mindset and are preserved through discipline. Next, the post explores how, similarly, a healthy relationship with the natural environment starts with mindset and is preserved through discipline. Finally, the post explores the powerful role that business can play in flourishing.
The most fulfilling life, the flourishing life, is one with healthy relationships both with others and with the natural world.
The first topic is how healthy relationships with others start with mindset and are preserved through discipline. Jerome Kagan, a developmental psychologist and Daniel and Amy Starch Professor Emeritus at Harvard University, says the following about human nature: “Although humans inherit a biological bias that permits them to feel anger, jealousy, selfishness, and envy, and to be rude, aggressive, or violent; they inherit an even stronger bias for kindness, compassion, cooperation, love and nurture – especially towards those in need” (see Jerome Kagan in The Dalai Lama at MIT (Harvard University Press, 2006) edited by Anne Harrington and Arthur Zajonc). We have a natural instinct for compassion because helping others in need is a part of how we insure that our species survives. It is mutual compassion that supports what is best for one another that is at the heart of a healthy relationship.
Psychology professor Mario Mikulincer has shown with fellow researchers that a pre-requisite to accessing the natural instinct for compassion and care-giving is a concept called attachment security (see M. Mikulincer; P.R. Shaver; O. Gillath; and R.A. Nitzberg; “Attachment, Care-Giving, and Altruism: Boosting Attachment Security Increases Compassion and Helping,” 2005, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Vol. 89, No. 5, p. 817-839). Attachment security is having emotional closeness with a caregiver that stems from a high degree of trust in the goodwill of the caregiver and having confidence that the caregiver will be available and responsive in times of need. Attachment security is about your mindset towards a person showing compassion towards you. The absence of this mindset of attachment security interferes with a person’s ability to access their natural instinct to show compassion.
However, even if the mindset of attachment security is present, a proper level of attention must be present in order to access the natural instinct of compassion. In a classic study at the Princeton Theological Seminary, it was shown that the distraction of giving a sermon and of being late to giving a sermon got in the way of seminarians showing compassion to a man in pain (see the 1975 paper “From Jerusalem to Jericho” in Journal of Personality and Social Psychology by John M. Darley and C. M. Batson of the Princeton Theological Seminary here https://faculty.washington.edu/pdf). This was true even for the seminarians that were assigned to give a sermon on the parable of the Good Samaritan. Thus, being consumed with or stressed by something on our minds can make us blind to the needs of others.
In his book Social Intelligence, Daniel Goleman describes the qualities of socially intelligent leaders. These qualities are all enabled by compassion and have to do with creating the emotional and social context that enables subordinates to flourish in the work environment. These qualities also take a great deal of discipline to enact in terms of the attention to others and to the impact of our own behaviors on others. It is compassion that enables us to give the support that others need to flourish. When those we care for flourish, we also flourish.
When those we care for flourish, we also flourish.
The second topic is how a healthy relationship with the natural environment starts with mindset and is preserved through discipline. From quantum mechanics, we have learned that not only do we have relationships with other people, but we also have relationships with objects outside our body. A simple experiment used to demonstrate this idea is the double-slit experiment (see https://www.youtube.com). The experiment shows that if you were to randomly shoot marbles at a solid metal sheet with a single vertical slit cut through it wide enough for a marble to get through, then you would get a pattern of a line on the other side of the slit. If you were to add a second vertical slit next to the first one, then you would duplicate the pattern of the line so that you would now have two lines produced on the other side of the double slit. If you placed the solid metal sheet with a single vertical slit cut through it in a liquid and then created a wave, then there would be one point of maximum liquid height on the other side of the slit represented by a single band of intensity. If you repeated the liquid experiment with the double slit, then you would see an interference pattern of several bands on the other side of the double slit because of the interaction of the two waves produced in proximity by the double slit. The interesting observations happen when this experiment is reduced down to quantum level. Instead of using marbles, quantum physicists use electrons. The single slit experiment produces a single band line pattern with electrons as expected but a double slit experiment produces a multiple band interference pattern. Even when the electrons are fired one at a time for the double slit experiment, a multiple band interference pattern is still produced. What is even more interesting is that when an observation device is placed near one slit to try and understand what is happening, a double band was produced by the electrons. It is as if the electron sensed the presence of the observation device and decided to behave in a different way – the expected way. According to a 2013 peer-reviewed research paper, thousands of experiments have replicated the impact of human observation on changing the behavior of electrons (http://deanradin.com/pdf). There is still no theoretical explanation for this behavior. Richard Conn Henry, a Professor in the Henry A. Rowland Department of Physics and Astronomy at The Johns Hopkins University, describes the new paradigm suggested by these observations in this way: “The Universe is immaterial — mental and spiritual. Live, and enjoy” (http://deanradin.com/pdf2).
The double-slit experiment and others like it from quantum physics suggest that humans are in relationship with the physical world. Therefore, the mindset that is needed to show compassion towards the natural environment is that we are not separate from the natural environment. Similar to social relationships, we also need to exercise the discipline of attention in order to be in a position to show compassion to the natural ecosystems we care most about. It is our compassion for the well-being of the natural environment that will enable us to give the natural environment the support that it needs to flourish. When the natural ecosystems most important to us flourish, then we flourish.
The third and final topic is the powerful role that business can play in flourishing. Businesses strongly influence the desires and motivations of people. Businesses can help align theses desires and motivations with what people really need to live a flourishing life: healthy relationships with other people and with the natural ecosystems they depend on for well-being. For example, businesses can encourage healthy relationships in the workplace to promote flourishing of employees. In addition, businesses can help align the desires and motivations of people with what the planet is capable of supporting to help all ecosystems flourish. This would require a shift in mindset. The current mindset of business is to maximize profit for shareholders. However, stakeholders, those impacted by the business, are increasingly understanding that business is collectively, though unintentionally, responsible for damage to the natural environment. In some cases the damage is quite dire (fishery depletion) and possibly irreversible (e.g. species extinction). The new mindset emerging for business is for operations to leave the natural environment in better shape than when they started while making enough money to support those operations. Fortunately, business is no stranger to shifts in mindset. With the transition from the manufacturing age to the knowledge age, business shifted from an assembly line mentality for office work to promoting the individual productivity of workers through personal computers and flexible work environments. Those businesses that embrace the new mindset with flourish on many levels.
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